Quebec will comply with ruling that struck down assisted death provisions

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann and Justice Minister Sonia LeBel say they won't make any legislative amendments to the provincial law, instead simply dropping the problematic sections. Jean-Vincent Verville/Global News

The Quebec government will comply with a court ruling striking down parts of its medical aid in dying legislation, the province’s health and justice ministers announced Tuesday.

The province will allow a provision stating those seeking a medically assisted death must be “at the end of life” to simply disappear from its legislation, the ministers said, without making any further amendments to the proposed law.

The decision means more people will qualify for a medically assisted death, Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann said, reminding reporters that patients will still have to meet the law’s five other criteria to qualify.

“They have a choice,” McCann said. “That’s the spirit in which we made the decision — the self-determination that a human being who has met all those five criteria … will have a choice.”

READ MORE: Federal government begins public consultations on medically assisted dying

Last September, Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin invalidated the “reasonably foreseeable natural death” requirement of the Criminal Code and a section the Quebec law that states people must “be at the end of life,” which prevented access to medical assistance in dying for some.

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The case was brought by two Quebec residents — Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon — who did not meet the criteria and had their requests for assisted death turned down by doctors.

Both suffer from incurable degenerative diseases, and lawyers argued the condition that a person’s natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” before they can receive medical assistance in dying was overly strict.

Gladu suffers from post-polio syndrome and medication no longer helps alleviate her pain, the court heard. Doctors gave her about two to three years to live due to her pulmonary condition.

READ MORE: Justice minister asked to move quickly on assisted death ruling

Truchon has cerebral palsy. Three of his four limbs were not functional at birth, and he just lost the use of the fourth, but he could continue to live for many more years.

The two launched a legal action against the federal and provincial governments, claiming their right to life, liberty and security — guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — was infringed.

Baudouin suspended the application of her judgment until March 11 to give federal and provincial legislators six months to modify the laws, while granting exemptions to Gladu and Truchon to seek medical aid in dying during this period if they satisfied other legal conditions.

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Neither the federal or provincial governments appealed the decision, although the federal government has not yet announced exactly what it intends to do.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government accepts the Quebec court’s ruling and will amend the federal law accordingly.

Click to play video: 'Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws' Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws
Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws – Jan 16, 2020

The government launched public consultations on the issue.

Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said her federal counterpart, David Lametti, is expected to brief provincial ministers this week in Victoria, B.C.

“Theoretically, as long as the federal criteria exists, it applies, so it’s in effect until March 12,” LeBel said, adding it’s unclear if the federal government will seek an extension.

The chair of the commission that oversees end-of-life care in the province is confident that despite the change in wording, there won’t be a flood of people lining up for medical assistance in dying.

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“The commission is not afraid that on March 12, the demand will increase tremendously,” said Dr. Michel Bureau said. “That’s not what we believe.”

But LeBel said the time was right for Quebec to make its announcement, noting the province is about to embark on consultations to broaden the criteria on Jan. 27.

“We’ve taken our decision so it was the time to announce it,” LeBel said.

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